Andy's last portrait, probably, shot by Zac Nafziger of ZN Stained Glass, on Saturday.
Andy’s last portrait, probably, shot by Zac Nafziger of ZN Stained Glass, on Saturday.

I sat down wanting to write about early Christmas with JC’s folks, but the only thing that’s on my mind right now is my friend Andy.

He killed himself on Wednesday.

People keep asking me if I have any other details. I know, from experience, that I don’t want any. I’ve lost one other friend to suicide, back when I was in college, and I knew enough about how she did it that it fed my nightmares for years. I’m glad I don’t know that about Andy.

I would like to know a few things. I’d like to know if he left any information about why, but I also sort of know. He almost did it several years ago, and he called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. He told me that the counselor he talked to saved his life, and that he was glad he’d called. “It was stupid to even consider it,” he said. “I’m glad I didn’t do it.”

I told him I was also glad he didn’t do it. And that I was proud of him for calling and for getting past a dark time and moving on and being strong.

I would like to know if he ever finished this really fun novel he was writing. I read a draft of it years ago. It reminded me of Carl Hiaasen, but grittier. He wasn’t quite done with it, though, and I wanted to know what happened. He had an amazing voice, and many of his life stories were stranger than fiction.

I’d like to know what art we’re missing because he’s missing.

And now, I’m disappointed and angry. I’m glad that I got to know him. I’ve been thinking a ton about what I learned from him. He was an incredibly generous person, with an amazing sense of humor and a warmth that could fill a room. I wrote about him a few years ago, when I stopped on my way through the town where he was living to say hi. Everything I said then is still true. He seemed to be doing pretty well recently–making art, taking lots of photos, traveling a bit, spending time with fun people. But one thing I know about depression is that it’s not about what’s actually going on in your life. It’s about what you feel around it. Or don’t feel. It’s about everything but reality.

What’s crazy is that I was actually thinking about Andy on Wednesday. I was taking a picture of Silas, and I thought how very Andy-esque it was. Not that I’ll ever be as amazing as the man himself, but as I was shooting, I was thinking about a series of shoots that Andy and I did together involving children. He always was putting these soft focus things in the foreground. I learned so much about depth of field from watching him work.

Andy Clingempeel, for R. Stone, Fall 2005. Note the blurry grass in the foreground.
Andy Clingempeel, for R. Stone, Fall 2005. Note the blurry grass in the foreground.

The light on Silas’ face as he was working on his LEGOs also reminded me of some of our shoots, and how Andy was so daring in his use of light and so perceptive of its presence.

"The window is big." Andy Clingempeel for R. Stone, 2006 (?). That backlight, though!
“The window is big.” Andy Clingempeel for R. Stone, 2006 (?). That backlight, though!

On one of my favorite shoots, we had a TON of kids there, and we were just trying to keep things under control. We got 35 usable shots in a day, which was a surprisingly high number. We had a great time because Andy kept it fun. He knew how to talk to the kids and really play with them. One of the best “out takes” happened when he spotted the way the sunlight hit the staircase. He asked two of the girls to sit there and have a conversation. Those shots came out incredibly gorgeous, mostly because he could read the light. Those girls glowed.

Andy Clingempeel, for R. Stone, Fall 2005
Andy Clingempeel, for R. Stone, Fall 2005

Part of me hopes that, somewhere, somehow, Andy knows how angry I am at him, if only because my anger shows the depth of my love for him. And part of me hopes that he’ll never know.

I think mental illness must be the worst kind, because it’s so hard to separate what a person does from who they are. The brain can get sick and out of balance, just like any other organ, as a friend wrote to me in the immediate aftermath of Andy’s death. And that’s true. But to believe in free will and also to try to reconcile that with the actions of a damaged brain, is a tricky thing. I’ve had more experience with that than most people, and it’s still hard.

I often would post my photos to Facebook with a tag to Andy, saying how he’d taught me something I had used in them. I didn’t even have a chance to pull these off the camera before I heard that he was gone.

Andy, where ever you are, I’m holding you in the light. The foreground is awfully blurry.


Aili Written by:


  1. Gene Taylor
    December 13, 2015


    Thank you for writing this. I woke up this morning thinking about my relationship with Andy. We both grew up in Roanoke but never met until we were in college together. And while we had somewhat similar careers we only crossed paths a few times over the last 45 years – until a couple of years ago when we became good friends again on Facebook. Not Facebook friends in the “we’re friends on Facebook” way. I would guess we communicated several times a day almost every day over that time. It was mostly about photography or artwork. But I don’t think anything I posted did not get a comment from Andy. I will dearly miss that. And I will sure miss him. But it was Andy who brought a circle of old friends together again and he will live in our thoughts forever. He had a way of doing that.

    • Alisha
      December 13, 2015

      That’s how Andy’s been in my life in recent years, too. I’ve seen him in person a bit, but our daily communication was all Facebook. I was so glad when he started using Facebook–it was right after I saw him in the spring of 2013–and he became a daily presence in my life instead of someone I just wondered and worried about. I wish he could see the outpouring of love people have posted. I also wish he’d thought, “Maybe I’ll just think about this a bit longer.” But I know how depression works. I’m lucky he was with us as long as he was.

  2. Paul Belote
    December 13, 2015

    Alisha Huber writes eloquently about our mutual friend Andy Clingempeel. I was fortunate to have known him for nearly 50 years, as he was the first friend I made during orientation week at RPI (now VCU) back in 1966. We were both art students there, sharing many of the same classes over the next four years, and always a passion for photography. His death is an immeasurable loss for so many people who knew him and loved him.

  3. […] last one, with the blurry foreground daffodils, makes me think of my photographer friend, Andy. He always was putting these blurred objects in the foreground, and sometimes I hated it, but a lot […]

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